Establishing Lawns – Planting

Source(s): Gil Landry, PhD., Coordinator – UGA Center for Urban Agriculture, The University of Georgia.

There are three distinct aspects of turfgrass establishment. The first, soil preparation, is probably the most important. The second, planting, may involve seeding, sprigging or sodding. The final step is the care and maintenance for two to four weeks after planting.

Cool Season Grasses

In Georgia, most cool-season lawns are established by seeding. Always purchase quality seed, that is, one with a high percent germination and purity. This information should be given on the tag. Inexpensive seed often ends up being quite expensive because of low germination and purity. Reputable seed dealers are always willing to help customers select quality seed. See Table 1 below for seeding rates.

The best way to apply seed is with a mechanical seeder that will distribute the seed uniformly. There are four basic types of mechanical seeders available: (a) drill, (b) gravity, (c) broadcaster, and (d) hydroseeder. For small areas, such as home lawns, the gravity flow or broadcaster work best.

When seeding, divide the seed in two equal parts and then seed in two directions at right angles to each other. Fertilizers and pesticides should also be applied in this manner to insure a more uniform distribution. For some small seed, it may be helpful to mix the seed with a carrier such as dry sand to distribute the seed evenly. If this is done, frequently mix to prevent separation of the seed and sand.

Once the seeds are planted, rake lightly into the soil. On small areas a hand rake works fine. This increases the contact of the seed with the soil, thus increasing the chance of the seed surviving. After raking, roll the seed lightly to firm the soil. Then place a mulch over the soil. A mulch serves two purposes: (1) it helps prevent soil erosion and (2) it helps retain moisture necessary for the seed to germinate. If straw is used, find a source that is free of weed seed. One bale of straw (60-80 pounds) will cover approximately 1000 square feet.

The straw can be left on the lawn to decompose if it is not spread too thick. Peat moss or aged sawdust does not make a good mulch for seeded lawns. These materials compete with the seed for water and resist decomposition. Water the lawn as soon as possible after seeding.

Warm-Season Grasses

With the exception of common bermudagrass and centipedegrass, most warm-season grasses in Georgia are established by planting vegetative plant parts. The seeding procedure is the same for warm- and cool-season grasses. Annual Ryegrass is used as an overseeding to produce green color on home lawns in winter. See Table 2 below for vegetative planting rates.

Sprigging is the placing of grass plants, runners, rhizomes, stolons, or small sod pieces (2-4 inch plugs) in small holes or furrows on the soil surface. Stolonizing is the broadcasting of vegetative plant parts on the soil surface and covering by topdressing or slicing.

To plant sprigs, dig furrows every 8-12 inches and place the sprigs at a 1-2 inch depth every 4-6 inches in the furrows. The closer together the sprigs are, the quicker the grass will cover. After placing the sprigs in the furrow, cover part of the sprig with soil and firm. This can be done with a roller or by stepping on the soil around the sprig. Water as soon as possible after planting.

Broadcasting requires more planting material but will produce a quicker cover. Stolons are broadcast by hand or a mechanical spreader over the prepared seedbed. The stolons are then topdressed lightly with 0.15-0.25 inches of soil or sliced into the soil. Machines with vertical blades for slicing the stolons into the soil are available for this purpose. After topdressing or slicing, roll the lawn to firm the soil around the stolons. Apply water immediately.

Sodding is becoming more and more popular. Quality sod that is free of weeds, diseases and insects should be used. Be sure the soil grade is correct before laying the sod. As soon as the sod is in place, roll, mow if necessary and water.

Relatively new methods of planting are hydro planting and hydroseeding. Sprigs or seed are mixed with water in a large tank and then sprayed under high pressure over the area being planted. The advantage of this method is that the equipment does not have to go over the lawn. This helps prevent compaction, especially in wet weather.

Many zoysia lawns in the south are plugged. While more grass tends to survive when plugged, the rate of establishment is much slower than that or sprigging or stolonizing. Zoysia plugs (2 to 4 inch diameter) should be placed on 6-12 inch centers. The closer the plugs, the faster the cover. Most lawns plugged with zoysia take two years to achieve full cover.

Table 1: Seeding Rates for Lawn Grasses in Georgia
Grass Seeding Rate (lbs/1000 sq.ft.) When to Plant Area of Adaptation
Tall Fescue 5-8 September, October (preferably), or early spring North of fall line
Kentucky Bluegrass 1-2 Same as above North, mountain area
Annual Ryegrass 5-10 September- November All*
Common Bermuda 1-2 (hulled) May-June All
Common Bermuda 3-5 (unhulled) Fall All
Centipede 1/4 -1/2 May-June Central south
Carpetgrass 1-3 May-June Central south
* Annual Ryegrass is used as an overseeding to produce green color on home lawns in winter.


Table 2: Vegetative Planting Rates for Warm Season Grasses
Grass Planting Rate* (bu/1000 sq. ft.) When to Plant Rate of Establishment
Bermudagrass 2-4 May-July 2-3 months
Zoysias 2-4 May-July 1 year
Centipede 2-4 May-June 4-6 months
St. Augustine 2-4 May-June 3-4 months*
* One square yard of sod approximates: 9 sq. ft; about 1 bu. of sprigs; 2000 Bermuda or Zoysia sprigs; 500 St. Augustine or Centipede sprigs; 324, 2-inch plugs; 84, 4-inch plugs.

Resource(s): Lawns in Georgia

Center Publication Number: 130

Gil Landry
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